White Zombie

Year of Release: 1932
Running Time: 67 Minutes
DVD Released By: Kino Lorber
Directed By: Victor Halperin
Writing Credits: Garnett Wilson (story/dialogue), William Seabrook (novel: "The Magic Island") (uncredited)
Filming Location: RKO-Pathé Studios - Culver City, California

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, George Burr Macannan, Von Gelder, Frederick Peters, Annette Stone, John Printz, Dan Crimmins

Taglines:
The dead walk among us!
Stranger things are happening than you ever dreamed of!
This is the real thing! Unbelievable, shocking, true thriller!
Foul traffic in dead bodies!
See them dug from the grave and put to work as slaves to murder!
She was not dead... not alive.
With these zombie eyes, he rendered her powerless. With this zombie grip, he made her perform his every desire!

Alternate Titles:
A fehér zombi (Hungary)
Biale zombie (Poland)
Kyôfu-jô (Japan)
Kyôfu-jô: Howaito zonbi (Japan) (DVD box title)
L'isola degli zombies (Italy)
La legión de los hombres sin alma (Spain)
Lefko zombi Greece (DVD title)
Les morts-vivants (France)
The White Zombie (West Germany) (alternative spelling)
To zontano ptoma (Greece)
Valkoinen zombi (Finland)
Vit vålnad (Sweden)
Zumbi Branco (Brazil)

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
According to his friends, Bela Lugosi always regretted taking the role of 'Murder' Legendare in this film for only $800.  The film became a great success and made a lot of money for the producers, the Halperin brothers.  The film was shot in eleven days during March of 1932, with a budget of $50,000.  The earliest known footage of Bela Lugosi was in his first film, which came out in 1917 called Az ezredes (The Colonel).  The film was lost shortly after its initial screenings and hasn't been seen since.

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Cast Of Characters
'Murder' Legendre: The bad guy.  At least, he became the main bad guy after he was enlisted by Charles to do whatever it takes to secure the love of Madeline for him.  Oddly enough, Charles was shocked and horrified when our resident black voodoo priest baddie here suggested that the only way to get her out of Neil's life and their marriage was to turn her into a zombie and fake her death.  I'm not sure what Charles expected.  I mean, what exactly is the skill set of a guy whose profession is making zombies and having them serve him?  I mean, it's not like he runs a dating service.  Then again, I guess he could.  I hear some people are into that sort of thing.
Madeline Short Parker: This dizzy broad is supposed to marry Neil, and she does, for all of about a half an hour, before the zombie powder Charles slipped her in one of her bouquet flowers took effect.  Neil, thinking she's dead, holds a funeral service for her, and her body is placed in a crypt, only to be retrieved later by Charles, Legendare, and the zombie squad that serves him.  To be honest, she was far less annoying as a zombie.  Charles met her on the boat she came to Haiti on and fell in love with her.  Learning about her impending marriage, he invited her to his plantation to hold the ceremony, so he'd have at least one shot at convincing her to leave Neil and be with him instead.  She's pretty, but I swear, if I had to listen to this ditzy chick rattle on and on inanely for the rest of our lives, I'd just hang myself in my closet.
Neil Parker: This guy...  Man, what a wuss.  You can tell this guy was city raised in a well off family and never had to learn how to be tough.  Everything bad that happends sends him into a mental trauma that's so filled with drama, you just want to slap him...hard.  He is deeply in love with Madeline though, and somehow manages to struggle through all the trauma and the drama to get to the bottom of what happened to her.  Still.... *SLAP!*
Charles Beaumont: He owns this big plantation in Haiti, along with the requisite fancy pants mansion to match. He's rich, but other than his faithful butler, he's very lonely and desperate to be with Madeline, who as stated above, he met on their boat trip back to the island. He's not a bad guy really, and does eventually manage to redeem himself. He was just lonely, and sometimes lonely people do desperate things simply because they're not thinking clearly. I know it's hard to tell from this picture, but if you look really close at him, he looks like someone took Edward G. Robinson and Liberace and smushed them together.  He does to me anyway, but that doesn't mean much.  I'm weird like that.
Dr. Bruner: This crazy old coot is Dr. Bruner, a missionary who's been on the island for thirty years and knows a whole bunch of the locals, including the local witch doctors.  He also knows all about the zombie legends and has been trying to get to the bottom of it for a very long time.  Charles asks him to the house to perform the ceremony for Neil and Madeline, but he doesn't trust Charles and can't figure out why all of a sudden he's being so nice to them after having only known them for a short time.  He advises them to leave right after the wedding, but the young, stupid couple doesn't take his advice.  Fortunately, he manages to help them with their troubles, but if they had just listened to him when he tried to warn them in the first place, they might have avoided those troubles all together.  Ah, the foolishness of youth.
Silver: Ah the butler.  You know, for all the jokes about how, "the butler did it," I don't think I've ever seen or read any story where the butler actually did do it.  If anyone did anything in this film, it certainly wasn't this guy.  He was loyal to the end.  Not the end of the movie, because he didn't make it that far, but as far as he did make it, he was loyal to his employer.  He even offered him good advice about not dealing with Legendare, and that only bad things would come of it.  Sadly, Charles didn't know good advice when he heard it.  He wasn't in the film all that much, but he'd pop in here and there, and he actually had more lines than just the random, "Your drink madam," so I figured he deserved to be mentioned.

 


 

Screen Shots

I've heard of a knit brow before, but this one looks like it's knitting a sweater.

Neil: "Now Madeline, I know it's our wedding night, but I forbid you to drink.  You know how you get when you drink."

Charles: "Oh come now, let her have a few, what could it hurt?"

Neil: "Ok Madeline, go ahead and have one."

Madeline: "Fine, I will!" *glug* *glug* *glug* .......... *HIC!*

Neil: "Ok Charles, get ready for part 1.  Watch this...  Madeline, tell Charles what you see..."

(joke continued below...)

Madeline: "No.....NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I see my AA counselor!  He's in my cup, staring at me with those horrible eyes!  Judging me!"

Neil: "And now Charles, for part 2..."

(joke continued below...)

Neil: "Yep, part 2.  Every time she drinks, it's the same thing.  Gee, thanks so much for encouraging her to do this on our wedding night."

Charles: "Well hell, I was gonna make her a zombie and all, but it looks like I won't even have to go through all that hassle.  Just stick a bottle of Old Crow under her nose and she's out like a light."

Neil: "Yeah seriously.  Wait...you were gonna what?"

Charles: "What?"

Neil: "You said you were going to turn her into a zombie?"

Charles: "No no, I said I was going to make her a zombie.  The drink."

Neil: "Oh.  Better make me one instead.  Keeping this drunken cow off the floor is thirsty work."

(fin...)

'Murder' Legendare uses a white powder to turn people into zombies.  Now I'm not sure what's in that white powder, but looking at this guy, I think I have a pretty good guess.  Little known fact.  It's the same formula that Bobby Brown used on Whitney Houston.

Oh man, did I just say that?  Hell yeah I did!  Booyah!

 


 

Best Quote

Madeline: "Driver, what is it?"

Driver: "It's a funeral miss Madeline.  They're afraid of the men who steal dead bodies, so they dig the graves in the middle of the road, where people pass all the time."

- Madeline inquiring to the driver as to why they had to stop the carriage and why all those people were standing around in the road a diggin' and a singin'. - (Reviewer's Note: Man, that's one hell of a pothole!)

 


 

Video Clip
When prompted, enter bmovie for the username and central for the password.

White Zombie
Neil and Madeline have their first encounter with 'Murder' Legendare.

 


 

Summary and Conclusion

I've been a huge fan of Bela Lugosi for more years than I care to remember. While there are many great legends in classic horror, it was Lugosi who always played the villian, no so much with a pure hatred of goodness and humanity, but more of a sense that he simply delighted in being evil himself. Often, while he's plotting and planning, you'll see an evil smile, or this look of sinister delight cross his face, and you can't help but to be drawn in by the charm of it all. He leaves you feeling like, yeah he's the bad guy and he's evil and all, but man, he's just the best!  Let's talk about the story here first, and then I'll get on with the review.

Madeline (Madge Bellamy) has just come to Haiti on a ship from America, with the intention of marrying her betrothed, Neil (John Harron). While on the ship, she met a man by the name of Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who took a fancy to her and insisted that her and her fiance come to stay with him at his plantation so they can have the wedding there. He even offers Neil a job as his agent in New York after the wedding. All seemed fine at first, but when Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn), the local missionary, shows up at the plantation to perform the ceremony, he expresses his distrust of Charles and suggests that the young couple leave right after the wedding, which they failed to do.

Charles had not only taken a fancy to Madeline, he was a very lonely man and wanted her for himself. To that end, he reluctantly made a deal with a voodoo priest by the name of 'Murder' Legendare (Bela Lugosi), to fake her death, and then once Niel was out of the picture, to pull her out of the crypt as a zombie. This came to pass, and as Neil drowned himself in alcohol to deal with his despair, Charles soon came to realize that simply having Madeline's body and her beauty, without the spark of life that made her who she was, was simply not enough. He begs Legendare to restore her to her former self, but Legendare has other plans for the both of them, and now it's up to Neil and Dr. Bruner to get to the bottom of things, so they can stop Legendare's evil plans and rescue Madeline from a fate worse than death.

You know what's sad? What's sad is that when most people think of zombies, they think of the George Romero type of zombies, ambling around aimlessly, looking to feast upon the flesh of the living. Zombies have been around far longer than anything Romero came up with however. In fact, White Zombie is, as far as I've been able to find out, the first ever zombie film.

The zombies in this film, according to popular belief by the locals, corpses raised from the grave and made to work in the fields and the sugar mill. In truth, they're living people who have been put into a largely catatonic state through the use of a powder, and are then controlled by the will of their master, who in this case is Legendare. It is possible for them to regain their sense of self, but only Legendare has the power to do it. There is a catch however, and this was actually a fairly large plot hole in the film. If Legendare goes unconscious, the zombies, lacking his control, will start to return to their normal selves, and to insure that he wouldn't regain control over them, he'd have to be killed. Now the plot hole is this. If he loses control of the zombies when he's knocked out, and they start to return to their normal selves, wouldn't they do that when he sleeps and he's not actively exerting any control over them?

Anyway, the zombies in this film are very much like the zombies in King of the Zombies and other zombie movies of this era - will-less people, walking around mindlessly, serving a master who controls them.

Bela Lugosi, as I said at the start of this review, is just a delight to watch on the screen. He relished playing roles such as these, and was simply amazing in each and every one. Another stand out member of the cast in this film was Joseph Cawthorn as Dr. Bruner. As delightfully evil as Bela Lugosi was in this film, Cawthorne's portrayal of the missionary was likeable, and even at times comedic. As for the rest of the cast, some were better than others, but in general they did a decent job with their roles.

I liked how they kept the whole zombie thing based on real Haitian legends and beliefs. Another belief they included right at the beginning of the film, was that some people would bury their dead in the middle of the road, to keep them from those who would dig up and steal the corpses. The reasoning behind this was that people are constantly traveling by there, so it would keep the corpses of their departed loved ones protected.

The majority of the film took place between Charles' mansion and this other castle on a hill, that belonged to Legendare. All of the sets in the film were beautifully designed, and well suited to the feel and content of the story.

This film has been available for quite some time, but the disc used for this review is the new restored blu-ray version from Kino Lorber. It was mastered in HD from a 35mm fine grain master, and includes both the restored version of the film, and the raw, unenhanced film transfer. It also includes Audio commentary by Frank Thompson, a 1932 six-minute interview with Bela Lugosi, mastered in HD from 35mm elements, the 1951 theatrical re-issue trailer and a stills gallery.

The visual quality of the film looks really quite good. The restoration process did it a lot of good. The sound is pretty decent as well, but unfortunately it suffers from the same problems that many films from back then have, and that's a limited range of audio frequencies, which can at times make the dialogue hard to understand. Optional subtitles would have gone a long way to mitigating this problem, but sadly, this release doesn't include them.

All in all though, this was an entertaining and highly enjoyable film. 'Murder' Legendare is, in my opinion, one of Lugosi's most memorable characters, and a prime example of why his legend has continued on into the modern day. The story can seem a bit dull at times, but for the most part, it keeps things moving along and never stays that way for long. If you want to see Lugosi at his best, make sure you don't miss out on this one. He's absolutely incredible in it.

I'm knocking off a half of a bee on this one for various reasons, not really worth getting into, but mostly because of the plot hole, Neil acting like a drama queen and because it can be a bit slow at times.  Bela Lugosi's performance however, is a straight up five.

B-Movie Central's Rating: 4½ Bees!

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